“I want my mommy!”
You’re awakened from a dead sleep. You look at the clock. It’s 2 am and this is the fourth night in a row you’ve gotten a wake-up call at this hour.
“I want my mommy.” His cries echo through the monitor and you can feel his anxiety rise.
He’s not calming down. In fact, he’s getting louder.
You roll over to grab your glasses and put on your robe and brace yourself for a long night. As you quietly walk up the stairs and hear his cries getting heavier and his fear growing stronger, you feel a wave of sadness wash over you. Your eyes fill up with tears. It’s impossible to imagine the turmoil this little two-year-old is going through.
“I want my mommy.” Your heart breaks.
If only you could give him his mommy, but you can’t. While you can love him and hold him, you aren’t his mom and can’t give him his mom.
Being a foster mom is one of the greatest gifts you can give a child, but it doesn’t come without its pain, limitations, and heartache. I know because I’ve been there. I’ve been woken up by gut-wrenching cries in the dead of night from our foster child, too. And it’s devastating.
Night times were so hard for him because he was so used to co-sleeping with his mom. All he wanted was that connection, warmth, and security that came from sharing a bed.
And I couldn’t give it to him.
Most foster children have a hard time at night. And can you blame them? Even as a grown adult, I can’t fathom the fear, confusion, and loss these little ones go through when they’re taken from the only home they’ve ever known. Then put in a new environment with no understanding of why.
As a mom, you’re used to caring for your child when she wakes up in the middle of the night. It’s part of the job and you’re more than happy to do it.
But what do you do when you can’t give your foster child the one thing their heart needs – their momma.
A child knows who his mom is, and in the dark hours of the night, they know you’re not her. It’s the worst.
So many kids that come into foster care often co-sleep with their parents. When they come to you and that’s no longer an option, it feels like a cruel joke to play on a child who’s already going through immense separation anxiety.
Did I already mention it’s the worst?
Know you’re not alone. Every foster parent that has felt the tears roll down their little one’s cheeks as they cry for their mom or dad understands how hard this is. If you do feel like you’re alone, there’s a support system readily available to help you as you help these young children.
City Ministries Foster Care Agency
City Ministries Foster Care Agency is a private foster agency in the greater Seattle area. They work with the State of Washing DCYF in supporting and training foster parents and volunteers.
If you feel like you need more support, contact them today and they’re there to provide the resources, tools, and, and training you need while fostering.
Our first foster placement had so much anxiety at night, which made his sleep problems worse. Thankfully we were able to utilize City Ministry Foster Agency for guidance during this challenging phase.
After a few weeks of restless and emotional nights (both him and me), he was finally able to sleep soundly through the night. And we were able to get there in spite of his need to co-sleep.
We did and so can you.
Whether you’ve been fostering for a few years, or if this is your first placement, a child struggling to sleep through the night is a challenge. Not to mention, there is a slew of behavioral and health problems1 associated with poor sleep habits in children.
Some of these include:
- Risky behaviors
- More likely to get sick or injured
- Trouble concentrating at school
- Learning challenges
- A higher rate of substance use
Here are 5 strategies that comfort a foster child and help them sleep peacefully through the night.
Because when they sleep, you sleep
Get Your Foster Child Sleeping Better With These 5 Tips
Have realistic expectations
Put yourself in your foster child’s shoes for a few minutes.
You’re removed from everything you’ve ever known including your family, your house, and your bed. Then you’re placed with complete strangers. You’re scared, alone, confused. And somehow, you’re expected to adjust and adapt to this new place.
It’s a lot for a child.
The best way you as the foster parent can support your foster child through this change is to have a reasonable timeline when it comes to their ability to sleep through the night.
It’s unrealistic to think they should be able to sleep peacefully and without interruptions right away. She needs time to learn about her new surroundings and gain your trust. Especially at night.
Night times can trigger traumatic memories for a child. Be patient and don’t expect nights to be a breeze right away. Your job as a foster parent is to create a safe place for your child.
Create a bedtime routine and stick to it
Children do best when things are predictable and there’s a routine to follow. Chances are good their home life before they came to you was the opposite of predictable.
Regardless of age, bedtime is a great opportunity to create a new routine for your child. This can include bath time, brushing teeth, picking out books to read, or cuddling on the couch. It can even be as simple as talking about their day for a few minutes.
While you might have a general rule of no snacks after dinner, if your foster child has gone hungry in the past, a snack right before bedtime may ease this fear. A small snack that contains carbs or tryptophan can actually help put him in a sleepy mood.
View nighttime as your chance to build trust with your foster child.
A reliable bedtime routine lets your foster child know what to expect each night. It prepares him for a restful night’s sleep. Start your bedtime routine 20-30 minutes before you want your child in bed.
Like all routines, consistency is key.
Talk out all their fears
Our first placement was only two and a half years old when he came to us, and night times were especially challenging. When we discovered that he liked to sleep with all the lights on and the door opened, that’s what we did.
If your foster child is old enough to share with you some of his fears, now’s the time to listen and provide appropriate comfort.
They may need a special stuffed animal to sleep with. Go to the store and let her pick out a special one.
Your foster child might have experienced a lot of noise and commotion at night, so the sound of complete silence might actually be causing more harm. Ask him if he wants a noise machine, or music playing in the background.
It’s your job to reassure the child that every fear is valid, and that you’re a safe place to come and talk through those fears.
Always be available
One of our placements would wake up screaming in the night. We would take him to the couch and watch “Ryan’s Toy Review” on YouTube and cuddle with him. He watched this show with his mom, and it was a way we could give him a piece of her.
The funny thing is I would never have done this with my own children because I wouldn’t want to create a bad habit. They scream at night, so we let them watch tv. Doesn’t make sense.
But with our foster child, watching tv gave him security and I was more than happy to do it.
This went on for a few weeks until all of a sudden, he stopped waking up and slept through the night.
I know how exhausting it can be to wake up many times a night to a crying, scared child. But it’s your job to show up, to rub her back, hold her, and remind her she’s safe.
Most of all, you’re someone she can rely on.
Make the mornings count
No matter how challenging the night was, get yourself and your foster child into the habit of waking up each day with a morning routine.
Routines are so necessary for children. The morning routine is just as important as the nighttime one.
Depending on the age of the child, have them make their bed, pick out clothes to wear, do their hair, and brush their teeth. Establish a morning schedule they can rely on.
It can be hard to move through the day when you’ve had sleepless nights after sleepless nights, but the more you create consistency the better the child will adapt. While it might be tempting to let everyone sleep in and have a lazy day, don’t let that happen.
Your foster child will adapt sooner and get into a healthier sleep routine when you have a schedule for the day.
Sleep training is hard enough when it’s your own child and you know the circumstances, lifestyle, and history of the child. But sleep training a child that’s experienced trauma, pain, neglect, fear, and abuse is a different ball game.
The greatest piece of advice I can give you as one foster parent to another is to give it time. Time is what your foster child needs. There’s so much change, development, and healing that a child has to go through when they enter foster care.
Be kind to yourself as you care for your foster child.
If you’re a foster parent and need more support, contact City Ministries Child Placement Agency. They’re here so you don’t have to foster parent alone.
Email them today and learn more about how they can support you as you support our foster children.